Anticorruption agencies: are they effective for reducing corruption risks?


This page in:

As the COVID19 pandemic rages and governments struggle to respond to the economic crisis and ensure fair access to vaccines, the front pages of many newspapers have featured more and more corruption scandals. In such situations, a quick policy response often relies on the use of Anticorruption Agencies (ACAs) as a way to prevent, investigate and prosecute corruption. However, these entities  have a mixed record in these areas.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003 gave global recognition to the idea, through articles 6 and 26, of an  anti-corruption body or bodies to both prevent and combat corruption.  The importance of such bodies was reinforced at the eighth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UNCAC held in Abu Dhabi in 2019: ‘the prevention of and the fight against all forms of corruption require a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, consistent with the UNCAC and the domestic legal frameworks of States parties, including by implementing chapter II and article 36 of the Convention’.

Article 6 proposes a body that prevents corruption through participation, transparency, and accountability, while Article 36 focuses on combating corruption through law enforcement. For many countries, the prevailing wisdom saw specialized ACAs as the optimal mean to address corruption by taking on roles and responsibilities under both articles. However, this has often over-burdened ACAs in terms of focus and priorities and has created confusion with other existing bodies that may have equal or complementary functions. Almost two decades since the introduction of UNCAC, ACAs are struggling to show a clear and significant impact in fighting corruption and are generally not regarded as the most effective policy tool available .

The renewed focus on integrity and corruption brought by the COVID-19 pandemic provides the opportunity to review whether the prevailing model of a stand-alone multi-functional ACA is an effective one, or whether existing institutions can also support anticorruption efforts and the implementation of the UNCAC.  Our chapter for Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Transparency The Fight Against Corruption  begins tackling this issue by asking countries to focus on the corruption problems such bodies were set up to address.  The main message that emerged from our work is that Article 6 is a whole-country responsibility. Furthermore, law enforcement arenas do not necessarily need to be a standalone ACA under Article 36.

Our analysis identifies a set of specific questions that help define the roles and responsibilities of ACAs. These questions focus on the definition of the corruption problem, whether an ACA is the appropriate (or only) response, and whether the definition informs the institutional design of the ACA.  They also focus on the existing institutional and operating environments and how the ACA fits within such an environment. This set of questions allows countries to decide whether they want (or need) an ACA, what they want an ACA to do, and by default what they don’t want it to do and what they want other institutions to do.

We give three examples to illustrate the different country responses we observe. In the United Kingdom, law enforcement is generally responsible for corruption, with specific corruption problems assigned to specific units. In Lithuania, the ACA has maintained with some difficulty the primacy of its “law enforcement” role.  In Bhutan,  the ACA has strong enforcement and prevention roles but these have caused issues with the existing institutional environment.  These examples show that, when considering the establishment of an ACA, governments need to complete a risk- or threat-based review of the existing anti-corruption arrangements before deciding if an ACA is needed and for reviewing existing ACAs within the existing institutional and operating environment to ensure a more holistic designation that supports both the ACA and the wider anticorruption efforts.

Anticorruption is everyone business and not just the responsibility of Anticorruption Agencies, particularly in the current climate. 


Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a series that helps unpack our new  global report, Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Transparency: The Fight Against Corruption.


Alan Doig

Visiting Professor, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, England

Dr. Zuhair Alkayed
May 14, 2021

Thank you for this important study that analyzes the the stumbling blocks facing the Anticirrubtion institution around the globe . First allow me to note that from my past experiences in several leading positions in the government of Jordan in the Middle East for about twenty years and as I was a consultant to the head of the institution in a volunteer bases where open the door for the UNDP and the World Bank to support this institution in Jordan . Thus , I can say that the Anticipation body there was not effective and , unfortunately, it will not be as long as the political intervention from the king himself to eclectic what cases can be opened and others must be hidden. Therefore , the operational environment is badly damaged which turned the institution to be as boneless chicken or skimmed milk . I can continue in my discussion for days in this issue but this is a good summary for most countries in the region which I know very well .

Adl Rah
May 20, 2021

Dr. Zuhair Alkayed,

You are dead right! How could they operate? there are very independent to catch the tadpole but just can not get the crocodiles and the sharks..The ACAs heads are nominated by the kings or the presidents so how could they be independent while they depend on the call of those whoever nominate them!

I think the World Bank Group anti-corruption initiative is a joke!

Here is the indicators: an estimated US$ 20 to 40 billions fly out of Africa each year. How much are caught in Stolen Asset Recovery and repatriate to Africa???

Adl Rah
May 20, 2021

ACAs were parallel structures established to bypass the regular government system, because the governance systems and the tenants of power are usually the most corrupt....
I wonder if you guys are serious.... about your approach and your blogs!.... Kleptocracy initiatives and Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative are in full gear now, because these ACAs established with World Bank's conditionality and expert recommendations are weak and barely have the room to move to catch the corrupt officials as these corrupt officials are the one that give them the mandates! So how would you expect them to act???? Indeed when the WBG request 'under" strict conditionality are accepted without any real commitment for observation... as these people indeed know full well WBG moneys are more than ever flowing and feeding more and more kleptocrats and odious debts ---

Maybe you need to read WB policy report "Elite capture of foreign aids: evidence from offshore bank accounts!"

Adele Rahelimihajandralambo
December 01, 2021

Appreciate the concerns that ACA are ineffective and the World Bank efforts are just "jokes" in the eyes of beholders in HIPC and extreme poverty of the world!
1) based on WB's note in 2019 after 16 years of implementation of StAR initiative: "Despite efforts to crack down on illicit financial flows, money laundering and corruption, millions of dollars are funneled out of developing countries every year and stashed away in financial centers. The theft of those resources undermines economic growth and denies public services to those who need them most."
2) You people know well that "kleptocrates" would not favor nor support the implementation of ACA or AR Agency. But as usual, when you look at the WB/UNDOC StAR website,,,, amazing assistances are only via government organization!
3) Given your awareness campaigns on COVID assistance funds and their extensive corruption, did WBG implement the "conditionnalities" to cut funding to corrupt governments? and known kleptocrates... NO and NO, indeed funds are pouring more than ever because the WB group needs to lend and whatever the results, will be reimbursed principal and interests! no matter how poor the population become from WBG lending that flight legally or illegally out of the country ... so including the WBG' Revolving door of ODA!